CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. (WDVM) — Just 77 days into 2021, the Charles Town Races equine racing track has recorded 8 deaths on their premises.

Marty Irby, the Executive Director of Animal Wellness Action, says other major race tracks around the country have seen a similar number of deaths as Charles Town Races. According to data found on a national horseracing database, Equibase, Charles Town Races has seen more deaths this year than other larger tracks such as Belmont Park in New York and Santa Anita Park in California who have both had 6 equine deaths at their tracks. Furthermore, three horses died in a span of fewer than 14 days at Charles Town Races, Best Shot perished on Jan. 20, Venetian Drive on Jan. 28, and Don’tmesswithbull on Jan. 29.

“Based on the research I’ve done, Charles Town has had more deaths than any other track in the US so far in 2021,” Irby said. “8 dead horses since January 1st. That’s an unusually high number.”

Irby also went on to explain that many of the deaths at Charles Town Races have been on the track itself.

“I think that’s what we’ve seen with a majority of the horses at Charles Town that have died this year… They’re dying on the track and having to be put down just after the race,” Irby stated.

Erich Zimny, the Vice President of Racing Operations at the Charles Town Races, responded to the incident with a statement reading in part:

We are never okay with fatalities on the racetrack and fortunately, over the past four calendar years, our rate of racing fatalities has diminished every year to the point where they are down 43% versus 2017. We’re proud of that because of how deeply both Charles Town and Penn National Gaming care about the safety of the human and equine athletes.

Irby and Animal Wellness Action have long been proponents of the Horse Racing Integrity and Safety Act, which received bipartisan support from legislators in Congress in the two largest racing states in the country, New York and Kentucky. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Congressman Paul Tonko of New York were joined by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Congressman Andy Barr of Kentucky as major cosponsors of the bill.

“The legislation would ban doping across the board in the united states and would also create a uniform national standard for drug testing under USADA, the US Anti-Doping Agency that oversees the Olympics,” Irby explained. “So in the meantime, we have horses dying on the track and we want to see Charles Town and Penn National step up their game and implement better policies.”

The Horse Racing Integrity and Safety Act was passed in December of 2020 but will not go into effect until 2022.